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Bullet train: rebuilding the PR first

May 08, 2013

NAWAZ Sharif, while addressing an election rally in Multan on May 3, promised, inter alia, that if his party was voted to power in the coming elections and he became the prime minister, he would run a bullet train from Peshawar to Karachi which would pass through Multan.

He elaborated the new train would take passengers from Peshawar to Karachi only in seven hours. The project would cost anywhere between $7 billion to $10 billion.

Nawaz Sharif did not talk about how that kind of money would be arranged because it is a mundane matter which is not supposed to be discussed in an election rally.

Those of us who have witnessed Pakistan Railways’ decline, both in terms of its scope of coverage and performance, during the last three decades would be tempted to laugh at the promise made by Nawaz Sharif.

They would look askance at his promise of running the bullet train and say that how can the Pakistan Railways, which has lost the ability to run even slow-moving passenger trains, can be enabled in a matter of five years (assuming that the PML-N’s tenure lasts full term ) to run a bullet train from Peshawar to Karachi.

They would draw attention that the bullet train project involves laying an entirely new two-line railway track as it runs at a speed of over 220km an hour and the existing railway track cannot be used for this purpose.

They would argue that an organisation that has added virtually nothing to the stock of rail tracks that it inherited in August 1947 cannot be expected to lay a new high quality rail track for the promised bullet train.

And, finally, to clinch the argument that the proposed project is virtually impossible to implement, these doubters would point out Pakistan’s precarious financial condition.

Those who view Nawaz Sharif’s promise sceptically should hold on. The promise of running a bullet train can be fulfilled in spite of the aforementioned difficulties.

Essentially, implementing the bullet train project would only require the government to have a warped sense of priorities and divert the country’s scarce resources toward this project.

The governments that have ruled us have been known for their warped sense of priorities. For how else can we explain the following facts? We are a nuclear power but residents of none of our cities, not to mention the people living in rural areas, have access to clean drinking water.

Our social indices are among the lowest in the world but our elite live in obscene luxury. We have flyovers, underpasses and motorways but none of our cities has a public transport system which can measure up to public transport systems in cities of other countries in the world having comparable per capita income.

Our effective literacy rate is among the lowest and our population growth rate among the highest in the world but we tend to assume the posture suitable for a superpower. We are using CNG for running vehicles and also making tall claims for employing renewable sources of energy for meeting our power needs but it took us almost half a century to find out that we have massive coal reserves in Thar.I may point out that over 60 per cent of electricity in the world still comes from coal, but in Pakistan hardly any electricity is generated from this source.

What I have stated above reflects a warped sense of priorities fixed by different governments that have ruled us over the period.

So, if the PML-N government comes to power as a result of the coming elections, it should be possible, if it so willed, to run a bullet train from Peshawar to Karachi.

Whether the new government should do so is another matter. I would be happy if the promise of the bullet train remained unfulfilled and resources could be diverted to resuscitate Pakistan Railways’ relatively slow passenger trains and goods trains of yore.

KHALID IDREES Islamabad